Tuesday 5 September 2017

Some People: Paula Bennett And National’s Tribal Instincts.

Another World: The Police Minister knows that the most effective means of breaking the gangs’ power would be to remove the criminal stigma from unwise drug use. But, like all Police Ministers, Paula Bennett knows that the drug laws are not there to end the misuse of drugs. They are there to create a nether world of criminality and addiction against which the situation of “normal” people may be favourably compared.

THERE ARE MOMENTS when we all, without thinking too much about what we’re saying, give ourselves away. Last Sunday (3/9/17) it was Paula Bennett’s turn. In full “Law and Order” mode, the Police Minister responded to a question about the compatibility of her just announced anti-gang/anti-P policy with New Zealand’s human-rights legislation by informing the electorate that “some” people had “fewer human-rights than others”.

Putting to one side its presumably unintended similarity to George Orwell’s famous Animal Farm formulation: “All animals are equal – but some animals are more equal than others”, Bennett’s comment possessed all the attributes of honest speech. Spoken in the context of her party’s hard line approach to what both she and the Prime Minister referred to as “the scourge” of methamphetamine addiction, the Minister’s words reflected her impatience with the sort of thinking which elevates abstract notions of rights above the all-too-material consequences of organised crime’s control of the illegal drug trade.

Clearly, Bennett sees the gangs’ involvement in the manufacture, distribution and sale of methamphetamine as proof of their members’ quasi-biological predilection towards depravity and violence. The people who engage in the illicit drug trade, heedless of the enormous damage it causes, cannot, in the eyes of conservative politicians and police officers, properly be classed as “people” at all. Rather, they should be dismissed as “animals” – brutal creatures who long ago sloughed-off the crucial qualities that distinguish men from beasts.

Taken to its most extreme, this way of viewing the “drug problem” culminates in the murderous policies favoured by the Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte. Viewed from his perspective, addicts and dealers have no human rights worthy of the state’s respect because any claim they might have made to human status has been irretrievably compromised by their fatally anti-social behaviour. To Duterte and his followers, drug dealers and addicts belong in the same category as rabid dogs: unworthy of anything except a bullet.

Ultimately, it comes back to how people respond to what moral philosophers call “The Problem of Evil”. The most basic human response to the savagery of our own species is to project it outwards from our families, clans, tribes, classes and nations, to where it can be located unequivocally in the “Other”. Among Native American tribes it is quite common for the word for “human-being” to be the same as the word used to describe themselves. The Dakhota, Nakhota and Lakhota nations of the Great Plains all derive their name from “khota” – the word for “people”.

Once this projection is accomplished, the “Other” find themselves excluded, quite literally, from the tribe’s definition of humanity. If you are not “one of us”. If you do not belong to our gender, our race, our class, our nation; then you are not really human at all. And, if you are not really human, then we can treat you in any way we please. We can exploit you; we can enslave you; we can torture you; and, if we feel so inclined, we can kill you.

Within the confines of their tribe the Comanche were a caring, generous and fun-loving people. To those unfortunate enough to be captured by their raiding parties, however, they were a by-word for the most extraordinary cruelty. The tribe’s internal cohesion was preserved by externalising all those impulses likely to bring about its dissolution. When the encroachment of the “Americans” made raiding impossible, the Comanche nation collapsed.

As the date of the General Election draws nearer, the propensity of political parties to dehumanise the members and supporters of their opponents’ “tribes” increases dramatically.

The manufacture, distribution and sale of illegal drugs is, by definition, the preserve of organised criminals. It is a business which follows in almost every respect the rules of supply and demand that govern all commodity markets. Any dispassionate assessment of the methamphetamine “scourge” must acknowledge that every shipment of the gang’s “product” which gets intercepted, instantly produces an increase in the price of the drugs that reach the street. Moreover, the addictive nature of the gangs’ product means that the demand for it will not decrease. To pay for their addiction, its consumers will simply step up the level of the criminal offending necessary to meet the increased price.

The Police Minister knows that the most effective means of breaking the gangs’ power would be to remove the criminal stigma from unwise drug use. But, like all Police Ministers, Paula Bennett knows that the drug laws are not there to end the misuse of drugs. They are there to create a nether world of criminality and addiction against which the situation of “normal” people may be favourably compared.

Her hope is that the members of the National Party “tribe” will be reassured that theirs is the only truly “human” world, and that their enjoyment of more social, economic and legal rights than all these dysfunctional “others” is no more or less than their due. Above all, the evils threatening the coherence of what National likes to call “Mainstream New Zealand” must continue to be externalised.

But there is another way of responding to the issues of crime and punishment. In the words of the Lebanese poet and philosopher, Kahil Gibran:

Let him who would lash the offender look unto the spirit of the offended.
And if any of you would punish in the name of righteousness and lay the axe unto the evil tree, let him see to its roots.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 5 September 2017.


Anonymous said...

trying to apply a lofty scholastic argument to the dark underworld of drug crime, Chris, is trite and bordering on stupid....

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I've just been reading Urlich's book about Hitler's rise to power. Perhaps it's made me oversensitive, but I think okay, what's next? Jews? As soon as you exclude one group from human rights, it's very easy to exclude others. And Godwin be damned.

Nick J said...

Here with Bennetts comments we see the true beast laid bare.

Kat said...

Paula Bennett would have been a good fit in a Brash team. NZ dodged a bullet with Brash, we copped some shrapnel with Bennett.

Polly. said...

I fully support Paula Bennett in her utterances against the criminals who manufacture and supply dangerous and addictive drugs to vulnerable people.

I support the death penalty for such crimes.

greywarbler said...

Very thoughtful post. It as you say follows the externalising desire in us all. The Nazis did it to the Jews, the RW do it to bennies and poorer people in general who don't dress right, live right etc.

I understand that it used to be noticeable that you weren't in the British in-crowd if you buttered a slice of bread as a whole, instead of cutting it in four and buttering each piece as required. Little telling rituals, I remember the instructions to do with the progress of the cutlery, the first courses were on the outside and you worked in from the fish knives to the dessert and perhaps the fruit knives.

With those rules separating on that level, there isn't much chance of being included in society when you do far worse than pick your nose in public. You definitely are animals - beyond there be dragons. Jesus nailed it, or vice versa! He brought up the caring aspect for 'other' people when the Pharisee helped the Samaritan, or was it the other way round? Are people reading their bible for an overview now, or is it more for narrow precepts of whom to hate or despise.

jh said...

Tribal instincts and othering cut both ways. Anyone who has spoken to gang members will tell you it is the closeness (us and them) that is the attraction of a gang. They choose to be outlaws. Paula Bennet is right. Human rights are a wish list.

We have a continuum between the most liberal countries and most conformist. Bill Clinton intervened when an American teenager was going to get caned in Singapore for vandalising cars. In some countries you don't have to suffer stereos: "all you hear is a cow bell" etc. Ordinary people suffer from "civil liberties". In other words where do a majority want the dial set?
BTW Cynthia Parker's case supports evolutionary psychology. Out of 13 white children captured by "Indians" 10/13 could not be repatriated. They said of one tribe that they were so dirty that if it rained plants would grow on them, despite that (it seems) humans are adapted. An Epitaph Rider told me of the pride of wearing filthy socks. One child described the Indian life as like being on holiday everyday.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" They choose to be outlaws."

Raising the question - why? Conservatives always claim it's a personal choice, and never ever consider the environment that produces these "choices". Because by golly if one person in a million can rip themselves out of poverty and hopelessness and become a billionaire – thereby forgetting everything about being poor and bitching about them as much as anyone else – then anyone can do it. Perhaps they make the "choice" because society has kicked them in the nuts and abandoned them. .
And dirty socks? Shit, I knew people when I was at uni who never washed their jeans from one year to the next. It was a point of pride with them. And it was done simply to annoy people like you JH. :) And attitude with which I have a certain sympathy. (Mind you, there are perfectly respectable people today who so you should never wash jeans anyway.)

"They said of one tribe that they were so dirty that if it rained plants would grow on them,"
They being white people of course, who categorised everybody they didn't particularly like as dirty, just as they categorised them as uncivilised and generally hateful. Native Americans were almost certainly cleaner than white people of the time, certainly at least as clean. And I'm not surprised that children kidnapped by them didn't want to go back. I would sooner live a life as a hunter gatherer than work in one of the shitty factories in the eastern US, where there was no regard for safety or cleanliness. By contrast, most hunter gatherers according to actual research done by actual scientists work no more than a couple of hours a day if that. Who the fuck would swap the life of a Plains Indian for the life of an industrial factory worker? You'd have to question their sanity if they did. Oh, by the way JH the 19th century rang. It wants its attitudes back.

greywarbler said...

Guerilla Surgeon
Tell them at the end of the 19th century line that they can't have them back. They are the only things we have to keep us covered in the 21st century where everything is being torn from us by fire, flood, and futility. An f..in' lot of f's, like the stream coming from the mouths of soulless schoolboys who walk past and never would think to moderate their language. That is so hypocritically 19th century-like. Now we say what we fink, and that ain't potry. I say, 'If you know a better century, go to it' but please give me directions before you leave.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I would be willing to put up with a bit of swearing – having been guilty of it myself – if we could escape the 19th century attitudes towards women, gay people, and people of other colours and cultures. Even if it is sometimes disguised these days as "race realism" and "evolutionary psychology".

manfred said...

Great article. I disagree with one point. Drug laws are as they are because of crude thinking.

You can talk all you want about Portugal, but for most people 'it's bad, let's ban it' is more than enough consideration.

National and Labour know this, and act accordingly.

jh said...

Guerilla Surgeon said...
Who the fuck would swap the life of a Plains Indian for the life of an industrial factory worker?
I think it goes deeper than that. For example, Cynthia Anne Parker wouldn't have had to work when she was repatriated yet she was a complete psychological mess. When she met Comanche she was eager to know about the dances being performed etc. The point is an evolved human nature versus a blank slate.

jh said...

That quote about an Indian tribe being dirty came from The Shirley Letters From The California Mines

Augustus Earle said Maori were dirty (with lice). Is that racist (a specialist might find it so)?
In context I was saying that they were living the best life: in a tribal environment; embedded in nature. No developer knocked on the door making an offer they couldn't refuse (until colonisation). Neither did they have to deal with the stranger thing of the big city where another human passes and we deflect the eye to the left or right.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

No, JH it's actually more complicated than that. Studied this for an exam last year. Some captives – after an initial "beasting" were accepted into some tribes as full members, particularly young men who showed courage. Women were also accepted, but they did most of the heavy lifting in many tribes. So their lives weren't perhaps quite so good or as free. And in spite of the freedom, many of them actually went back. Largely in the cases I studied because the parents were still alive, and they were old enough when captured to remember them. But many stayed. And if you were a bloke in particular, I wouldn't blame them.
As I said, white people, especially middle-class and upper-class white people did regard "natives" as dirty. But lice were just as common among lower class whites. That's assuming we take his word for it. And of course it was racist, because he regarded everyone who wasn't white as inferior. That's the 19th-century attitudes I was talking about.
I've no idea what you mean by "specialist" – as usual you talk in codes that I can't always be bothered to decipher. And all I get from your links these days is "page cannot be found", or "dangerous page, transmits malware or spyware."